Meet Judge Sara West: Hennepin County Bar Foundation 2019-2020 President

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Judge Sarah West is the president of the Hennepin County Bar Foundation (HCBF), which serves as the charitable arm of the HCBA. She is a judge with the Fourth Judicial District in Hennepin County. 

What inspired you to join the HCBF board and serve as an officer?

I first became interested in the HCBF when I participated in the Leaders Impacting the Nonprofit Community (LINC) program through the HCBA. I was hoping to work with nonprofits in the community, and the LINC program provided a wonderful opportunity to learn how to best do that. In addition, the LINC program introduced me to the great work that the HCBF does. I loved that by working with the HCBF, I would be able to have an impact and support several nonprofits at one time. I first worked on the grant review committee and saw the strength of the HCBF. I wanted to become more involved, so I applied to sit on the board. I really wanted to push myself to help the HCBF as much as possible, so when a position as an officer opened, I decided to apply. I have been so happy I did as each year I have seen the wonderful work of the non profits we help to fund and the great commitment that our legal community has to the HCBF and these organizations.

What are your goals for the HCBF this year?

My goals for the HCBF this year are to build on the amazing start of the Fellows Program under [2018-2019 HCBF President] Vince Louwagie’s great leadership and to further strengthen our fundraising and ability to help make a real impact to the nonprofits to which we provide grants.

What would you like the local legal community to know about the HCBF?

I hope the local legal community knows that the HCBF is a wonderful way to help organizations that are working to support underserved and underrepresented populations with a myriad of legal issues and challenges. We are so fortunate in Hennepin County to have numerous attorneys that work directly helping these populations and those that volunteer their time to do the same. Whether by working directly with the HCBF to help raise money and/or determine to which organizations the grants will be given, or by giving money to the HCBF for its grants, the HCBF provides an excellent way to get involved with some of the remarkable nonprofits in our community promoting access to justice in Hennepin County.  

How has the HCBF changed in the past few years?

The HCBF has made some significant steps to become self-sufficient while increasing its impact in the community and providing more opportunities for lawyers to engage with the HCBF and the organizations it assists, as well as meeting other like-minded lawyers in the community. The HCBF worked with the HCBA to ensure that it was covering its own expenses and managing its own operations while continuing to operate as the charitable arm for the Association. The HCBF has continued to strengthen its fundraising capabilities by revamping the Bar Benefit and Golf Classic to offer additional opportunities for individuals to give and be recognized. In addition, the HCBF has started the Fellows Program, which recognizes attorneys in our community that are committed to providing access to justice in Hennepin County. In its first year, the Fellows Program provided an additional $33,000 in funds for the HCBF to use in its grant-making.

How has the Fellows Program been received in its first year?

Reports from Fellows are that they have enjoyed being able to be more involved with the HCBF as well as meet and talk to other like-minded lawyers at the Fellows events. The Fellows were recognized at larger events like the Bar Benefit and had a special reception and breakfast at which they were not only thanked for their contribution to the HCBF, but also given the opportunity to hear from and meet with Mayor Jacob Frey, to network, and engage with the other Fellows. 

As a judge, and previously a public defender, what perspective do you bring to the HCBF?

I bring the perspective of someone who has primarily worked as a public interest attorney and who, as a result, has had many experiences with the community that the HCBF strives to serve. Both of those positions have made me very familiar with many of the nonprofits that receive grants from the HCBF. This familiarity and perspective gives me a clear vision of the type of impact that the HCBF can and does have. I have seen and continue to see on a daily basis the need for partners in the work to provide access to justice. Being a part of HCBF allows me to use that perspective to strengthen those partnerships.

How can HCBA members get involved with and support the foundation?

It is wonderfully easy to get involved with and support the HCBF. First, and easiest, is by making a financial donation to the HCBF. Second, and allowing more involvement and engagement, is by providing time and financial support for our fundraising events, the Golf Classic and the Bar Benefit. Not only do these events benefit the HCBF, but they also provide the ability to network and meet with like-minded attorneys that may not otherwise cross someone’s path. Third, serve on a committee. For example, the grant review committee handles the crucial task of determining which organizations receive HCBF grants. This committee is a wonderful way to become involved in the HCBF, learn about the wonderful nonprofits that apply for and receive our grants, and provide time and energy in the furtherance of justice in Hennepin County. Finally, the HCBF is always searching for strong, dynamic, interested people to serve on its board of directors.

What do you like to do in your free time?

When I get spare time, I like to spend it with my family. Whether just hanging out at home or going to a movie or one of the kids’ activities, time with family is treasured. I also like to read, watch both quality and not-so-quality television shows, and be outside especially in the fall.